NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Wednesday, January 6, 2016, 6:44 PM
Mike Piazza, seen here throwing the first pitch before Game 3 of the 2015 World Series, will enter the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Mike Piazza, the lowly 62nd-round draft pick who bloomed into the greatest hitting catcher of all time is finally headed to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Piazza, the ex-Met who was the biggest threat of their run to the World Series in 2000, gained election to Cooperstown with 83% of the vote, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced Wednesday evening. Piazza joins Ken Griffey, Jr., the superlative center fielder, who received a record 99.3% of the vote.
Induction ceremonies will take place Sunday, July 24 in Cooperstown.
“It’s the first time in a long time I’ve been speechless,” Piazza said in an interview on SNY. “I’m a huge fan of the history of the game and to be in an institution like the Hall of Fame is an honor. It’s Cloud 9, guys. Can’t describe it.”
Mets COO Jeff Wilpon added that the team is “thrilled” that Piazza “has taken his rightful place among the other greats in Cooperstown.”
“Mike’s offensive prowess, ability to deliver in the clutch, and tireless work ethic helped him become one of the great catchers of all time,” Wilpon said. “On behalf of Mets Ownership, front office staff and our fans, we congratulate Mike, his wife Alicia, his parents, Vince and Veronica, and the entire Piazza family.”
Piazza, who holds the career record for most home runs by a catcher – he hit 396 of his 427 homers as a backstop – made the Hall of Fame on his fourth try. Though nothing was ever proven, some voters held suspicions about Piazza and performance-enhancing drugs, which likely delayed his election.
The now 47-year-old was always a longshot. The Dodgers, the story goes, only drafted him because Tommy Lasorda and Piazza’s dad, Vince, were lifelong friends. Piazza was the 1,390th player taken in the 1988 draft, making him the lowest-ever draft pick to make the Hall of Fame.
Piazza played in the majors from 1992 through 2007, coming up with the Dodgers and also suited up for the Mets, Athletics, Padres and, briefly, the Marlins. He was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1993 and was MVP of the All-Star Game in 1996.
Piazza seems likely to have a Met cap on his plaque – he said as much in his autobiography. In an interview on MLB Network immediately after the announcement, Piazza joked, “I’m under strict orders, guys, to keep it confidential ‘til tomorrow. I’m like the guy who snuck in to Studio 54. I don’t want to break any rules.”
He added that he “obviously has a special connection with New York” and said the final cap announcement would be at a press conference Thursday.
Piazza also was a 12-time All-Star, a 10-time Silver Slugger Award winner and finished second in the NL MVP voting in both 1996 and 1997 while with Los Angeles. There were complaints about his defense behind the plate, though some of the pitchers he used to work with have praised his game-calling ability, but everyone knew they were looking at a remarkable offensive player.
Piazza’s nine seasons of 30 or more homers is more than double the total of any other catcher. He’s the only catcher to have three seasons with an OPS above 1.000 and his lifetime OPS of .922 is 46th all-time. His career slugging percentage of .545 is 28th-best and better than Hall of Famers such as Frank Robinson and Mel Ott.
In May of 1998, the Dodgers traded Piazza and Todd Zeile to the Marlins for five players, including Bobby Bonilla and Gary Sheffield. Eight days later, the Mets sent Preston Wilson, Ed Yarnall and Geoff Goetz to Florida for Piazza, who would become the signature player of a terrific turn-of-the-century club.
He was a beast in the Mets’ jaunt through October to a Subway Series meeting with the Yankees in 2000. He had an OPS of 1.045 in that postseason and hit four homers and six doubles in 14 games.
He also authored an indelible moment in New York sports history on Sept. 21, 2001, belting a mammoth homer off Atlanta’s Steve Karsay at Shea that led the Mets to a victory in the first major sporting event in the city after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Griffey, who hit 630 career home runs in his wonderful 22-year career, is the first player ever selected with the No. 1 overall pick to reach the Hall of Fame.